The 9 Best Moments Of Coachella 2015 Sunday
There were headliners on all three days of Coachella, as there are every year. But this year, there was really only one headliner, and that one headliner was Drake. People talked about that Drake show all weekend. People rapped Drake lyrics at each other every time there was a conversational lull, or asked strangers who they thought Drake would bring out. It was Peak Drake out there. And that made sense, as Drake is having a moment that’s stretched for several years now. He’s changed the sound of rap radio and the template for what a successful rapper is. He’s made songs with just about every important figure in the genre, and almost all of those songs are good. He’s a millennial favorite but still credible enough that most (most, not all) of us older folk don’t eyeroll him out of the room. And practically every song of his is really, really fun to rap along with. Coachella absolutely couldn’t have picked a more perfect headliner for the year, and his almost-entirely-solo set had the crazy effect of making the rest of the weekend feel like a prolonged opening act. Still, though, there was a lot of great stuff out there on Sunday, including a fascinatingly rich supply of punk and post-hardcore bands. Here are the best things I witnessed during the day, and I promise they aren’t all Drake-related.
Touche Amore's Punk Advocacy
L.A. post-hardcore screamers Touche Amore played early in the day, bringing a small but fervent crowd into the Mojave Tent and playing it like it was an honest-to-god punk show. Near the end, frontman Jeremy Bolm pointed out that it was cool that a huge festival like Coachella would book so many bands from the same basic underground universe (Joyce Manor, OFF!, Brand New, Desaparacidos) onto the same day's bill. It was a nice remember that punk rock can feel like a family.
Ryan Adams' Dad-Rock Sunset
Coachella made a point of booking low-key, retro-leaning, folk-influenced guitar bands to play during sunset every night this year: The War On Drugs, Belle & Sebastian, Ryan Adams. Adams was the most laid-back of the bunch, but when he tapped deep into his catalog, he was also the most effective. I can't tell you how good it feels to leave Brand New to catch the end of Adams and realizing that you're getting there just in time for "Oh My Sweet Carolina" and "Come Pick Me Up." It feels amazing.
Brand New's Crowd Goes Off
I knew basically nothing about this proggy Long Island emo band, since they come from the Taking Back Sunday era, just after I drifted away from the genre. But my colleague Ian Cohen convinced me that they're a huge deal within their circle, that punks treat every rumbling of new music the way certain of us treat whatever Tool or Radiohead does. Maybe a new Brand New album will turn out to be a masterpiece of the form, but their set didn't convert me. Their ringing-quiet-guitars-to-roaring-overdrive dynamics were strong, but frontman Jesse Lacey either sounds too much like Gavin Rossdale or too much like Isaac Brock, depending on the moment. I liked them, didn't love them. I did, however, love their crowd, which packed a huge tent out and wailed along with every wounded, strangulated word. The entire weekend, I didn't see anyone else use guitar-driven music to whip a crowd into anything like that level of frenzy. It was a sight.
Sturgill Simpson Walks Onstage Wearing New Balances
There are two different types of country performers: Those who play up to the aesthetic trappings of the music's cowboy-hat-and-rhinestone-suit history and those who don't bother making an effort. But even among those who don't work those connections, it's pretty common practice to wear cowboy boots onstage. Not Sturgill Simpson. At least a couple of the guys in his backing band wore boots, but Simpson ambled onstage in the same pair of New Balances you'd wear to the gym. Simpson had no use for theater. He treated it like just another gig, bellowing his Waylon Jennings-esque old-school outlaw country and never saying much to the crowd. (And it was another gig. Simpson is, I believe, the only performer on the Coachella bill who's sticking around for Stagecoach, the country music festival that takes over the same Polo Grounds the week after the second Coachella weekend. He's going to be there for a few weeks, and he's just settling in.) So he just showed up and did his job with a casual sense of asskickery. He made it look easy.
Conor Oberst Wears A "Deport Conor Oberst" Shirt Onstage
The shirt was cool, but I'm really just using it as a stand-in for everything Oberst did with his old reactivated punk band Desaparecidos. No moment from that set really stands out, but the whole thing just kicked every conceivable level of ass. Read Music/Speak Spanish, the 2002 album that the band is only getting around to following up, has aged awfully well. And while the band's crowd wasn't huge, it was committed; people have been living with these songs for a long time. At this point, Oberst is a way better punk than he is a folkie; he and his band threw themselves into those songs with purpose and conviction. It was a great show where I was expecting a good one, and that can be the best kind.
The Rilo Kiley Mini-Reunion
Jenny Lewis is a Coachella veteran, and she knows how to get and hold a big crowd's attention. It was cool, for instance, when she brought out all three members of HAIM to assist her on a new song called "Girl On Girl." But Lewis and her old band Rilo Kiley are cult heroes in California even more than they are elsewhere, so it was the old Rilo Kiley songs that really brought the house down. Lewis can and does sing those old songs on her own. But when she brought out her old bandmate Blake Sennett for "Portions For Foxes," maybe that band's best song, it made for one of the feel-good moments of the entire festival.
Florence Welch Becomes Our New Bonnie Tyler
It happened at some point during the flawless transition between "Shake It Out" and "Dog Days Are Over": Florence + The Machine became our finest angel-haired ballad wailer since "Total Eclipse Of The Heart." Welch's billowing white suit and her dramatically backlit hair were exactly the sorts of things Tyler would've worn, and a song like "No Light, No Light" soars just as shamelessly. Welch, in a tough spot holding down the main stage before Drake, was an absolute hit. She's a charming and energetic presence, she seems overjoyed every second she's onstage, and her voice is like the Death Star energy-beam cannon. And as she eased from one overdriven howler to another, everyone in the crowd seemed to have that same breath-intake "oh fuck, she's amazing" realization.
The Madonna Lip-Lock
All weekend, there were rumors and speculation about which famous guests would join Drake onstage: Lil Wayne? Nicki? The Weeknd? As it turned out, Drake did almost the whole set solo, sharing the stage with only one other person all night. And that one person, to the credit of everyone involved, was a total surprise, one that nobody could've expected. Even better, it was a really good guest appearance, at least up until the end. Madonna came out just after Drake sang "Madonna," with its "you could be big as Madonna" lyric. She strutted onstage doing 1994's quasi-Janet Jackson shuffle "Human Nature" and then did her 2005 house anthem "Hung Up." Upon reflection, these are the exact right songs for Madonna to sing at a Drake show. And she sounded great and looked commanding while doing those songs, at least if we're willing to ignore the garish "Big As Madonna" she had plastered across the front of whatever she was wearing.
But what happened next overwhelmed everything else Madonna did, and it threatened to derail Drake's entire show, as well. She walked over to Drake, seated on a chair at center stage, and pretty much rammed her tongue down his throat. By the time she pulled away, Drake was practically wincing. Drake was actually laughing and saying "What the fuck was that?" as Madonna was walking offstage. I'm not entirely certain what I witnessed, but the kiss must've been planned; otherwise the chair wouldn't have been there. But it did seem like Madonna went a little far with it. And by the time I made it back to my car and checked Twitter after the show, it was already a meme.
Running! Through The! Six! WITH MY WOES!
But even if Madonna might've tried to make the night about her, Drake just had too much going on. The decision to do the set almost entirely solo was a ballsy one, but it paid off. Drake just has a staggering number of hits right now, and hearing him do them back-to-back-to-back without help made for a powerful statement. He sings the hook on most of those songs, too, so he didn't even have to rely on piped-in vocals most of the time. (I did think it was funny how he led a whole-crowd singalong of Big Sean's verse on "All Me," though, like it was Pimp C's verse on "Big Pimpin'" or something. Sean's verse was the worst one on that song!) Drake's resume now has so many bangers on it that he can go from "The Motto" to "Truffle Butter" to "Worst Behavior" like it's nothing. And all of it seemed to build up to the If You're Reading This It's Too Late highlight "Know Yourself," and especially to the big "running through the six with my woes" drop. In the short span of time since If You're Reading This dropped, that phrase has become like "cellar door" -- a wonderful thing to hear, regardless of meaning (which is good, since it means pretty much nothing). All weekend, I heard people chanting it over and over, context free, like this was 1994 and it was "Whoomp! There It Is." And when Drake finally brought out "Know Yourself," it was a total earthshaker. Watching tens of thousands lose their collective mind over a few seconds of music is a magical thing. I'd rate this as the single greatest moment of a festival full of them.